The largest and oldest Baobab trees in Africa, if not already dead, are now dying.
Some of the oldest and largest baobabs in South Africa‚ Zimbabwe‚ Namibia‚ Botswana‚ and Zambia have abruptly died in the past decade‚ say a team of worldwide researchers.
Patrut says more research is needed to understand the cause of the die-off, but he believes the most likely explanation is climate change. They are all between 1,000 and more than 2,500 years old. Over 15 years, Patrut identified about 60 of the largest and oldest baobabs. And it's no fluke, he adds. They were surprised that most of the oldest and biggest died within those 12 years. The stories note baobobs' iconic place in African history.
"Something obviously is going on in nearly selectively affecting the largest and oldest", Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental scientist and Amazon rain forest expert at George Mason University, wrote in an email comment on the study.
Beginning in Spring 2016, the tree began to split apart.
But until recently, much about these trees was not known with confidence, which is why in 2005 the team of researchers began a project to study their structure, growth and age. The work also addresses the mystery of why so many of these odd trees are dying.
"We suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular". Nadia Drake at National Geographic reports that Patrut began studying baobabs in 2000, mainly focusing on Adansonia digitata, a very large species of baobab found primarily in southern Africa.
"These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought", study co-author and Babeș-Bolyai University chemist Adrian Patrut told NPR.
African baobab trees are truly one of the wonders of the natural world. Over its lifetime, a baobab's roots send up several more stems in a ring. That includes Panke, a sacred baobab in Zimbabwe that was estimated to be about 2,450 years old, with an 82-foot-wide trunk and a height of 51 feet.
The latest survey of ancient baobabs suggests climate change may already be affecting the continent's vegetation. Baobabs are particularly reliant on the annual rainy season and need to sip up about 70 to 80 percent of their volume in water to stay upright. The common theory, Baum said, is that as the tree slowly grows around these scars, they can become large hollows.
Whatever the cause, these mysterious deaths will have a big impact on the southern African landscape. But on a baobab, new wood grows both on the outside and into the hollows, meaning that a straight line from the center of the tree can pass both forward and backward in time - or even skip decades altogether if they rotted out or were eaten.